The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court recently struck down the state’s congressional district map in a massive blow to gerrymandering. But what is gerrymandering, and what is the impact of the court’s decision?
Every state is broken down into districts, and each district elects one person to the House of Representatives, 435 in total. Gerrymandering affects the way in which those districts are drawn.
“Gerrymandering is drawing district lines to achieve a very specific political purpose,” Joseph Morris, Ph.D., Political Science department chair and director of the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics, said.
There are three different kinds of gerrymandering. The first kind is racial gerrymandering, which is, as Morris explains, where “the district lines are drawn in order to ensure that people of a certain ethnicity are either inside or outside of a district.”
The second kind is pro-incumbent gerrymandering. Morris defines this type of gerrymandering as “where the district lines are drawn to favor a sitting member of Congress.”
The third kind of gerrymandering, as Morris explains, is partisan gerrymandering, “where the districts are drawn to favor one party over another.”
It goes without saying that all kinds of gerrymandering are discriminatory, which is part of the reason why the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently struck down the state’s district map.
This decision will have an incredible effect on politics at a local, state and federal level.
“This is really big, not only for Pennsylvania politics, but for national politics,” Morris said.
Part of the reason why this is such a massive decision is the impact it will have on the 2018 midterms later this year. The fight for control of the House of Representatives is going to be a
tight one this year.
“Democrats will need to pick up 24 seats that are currently held by Republicans to win the House of Representatives,” said Morris. “Historically, when we’ve had a president with an approval rating of below 50 percent, the president’s party loses 36 seats. This decision makes it even more likely that Democrats will win the House of Representatives.”
On a state level, the current Pennsylvania delegation to Congress consists of 13 Republicans and five Democrats, despite Democrats having the edge in voter registration. This imbalance is part of what the court’s decision hopes to address.
This decision also carries an immense weight for local politics as well. Under the current map, Erie County has been split into two. With the map drawn by the Supreme Court, Erie County will be united into a single district once again.
As Morris explains, there are two different schools of thought about Erie County being split up.
“One says that having Erie split into the 3rd and 5th congressional districts was good, because it meant two representatives had to pay attention to Erie County,” said Morris. “The other school of thought says that is not the situation we want, and that neither member of Congress paid enough attention to Erie County because it was only half a county.
“I think over time, we’ll find out if this was good for Erie or bad for Erie, but I am on the side that thinks this will be very good for our community,” he said.
More than anything, Morris is hopeful that this could have a positive impact on the state of political discourse in modern America.
“I think one of the most important contributing factors to our divisive political discourse today is gerrymandering,” said Morris. “This decision could have an immense impact on our political discourse. Competitive districts create moderate candidates, and if that is the case, we could start to see the possibility of compromise once again in D.C., and that’s what we’re lacking today.”